Let it be know that using illegal drugs in any foreign country almost certainly comes with it’s own set of potential risks. However, narcotics offenders in some countries face much steeper fines, longer prison stays and, in some cases, a more brutal death sentence if they’re caught. So if you happen to visit any of the places on this list, do yourself a favor and try to avoid getting high — it’ll probably save your life.
After decriminalizing methamphetamines so that doctors could prescribe the drug to addicted people, drug use in Sweden soared to the point where thousands of people were developing new drug addictions each year. The country has since pulled a 180 and now treats all drugs as illegal substances, with stop and search laws implemented to help catch and punish all suspected drug users and traffickers.
The mood contrasts sharply with more “open” drug scenes found in clubs in Spain and Germany, and catches some off guard. Cocaine, ecstasy, and even cannabis are rarely seen in Swedish streets and clubs. It’s all part of the country’s official “zero tolerance” approach which aims to foster a society that is completely free from illegal drugs.
10. North Korea
Despite a Vice report from 2013 stating that marijuana is essentially legal in North Korea, according to a more recent post from The Guardian, publicly smoking weed in the hermit nation can technically get you executed, although such punishment is rarely implemented.
North Korea has had a strange love affair with drugs over the decades. Until recently, the government made, shipped, and sold its very own brand of crystal meth. So Kim Jong Il was pretty much just a chubbier, less fictional version of Walter White, and, under his ruling, the country produced so much meth that it was common place for citizens to offer it to guests as a stimulant, much like tea or coffee. But those days are long gone now — probably because China didn’t take too kindly to all the North Korean meth dealers they had to keep arresting at the border.
Most people recognize Japan as one of the richest, most urbanized and technologically impressive countries in the world. But many might not be aware that Japan also has some of the strictest drug laws. The list of substances that Japan places under the umbrella of ‘recreational drugs’ is drastically longer than what you’d find in North America. Its Pharmaceutical Affairs Law bans the production and sale of 68 types of drugs. Anti-allergy medicines, decongestants, and over-the-counter painkillers are all deemed as corruptive as heroin and ecstasy. If you accidentally bring some into the country, you could end up going to prison for a long time.
Random drug screenings outside of the workplace are also not uncommon. Police have been known to stop tourists coming out of bars and demand that they give a urine sample right there on the spot. Suspects can be held without bail, access to a lawyer, or even a phone call for an entire month. And during that time they can be subjected to mild forms of torture in the form of verbal abuse and sleep deprivation that can sometimes be used to extract false confessions, which, to the Japanese government and its 99.9 percent conviction rate, is just as valid as a genuine confession.
Compared to its execution-happy neighbours, Vietnam’s drug policies might appear somewhat progressive — at least on the surface. Instead of putting them to death, Vietnam puts its drug offenders to work in so-called “rehabilitation centers”, which is really just their nice way of saying “forced labor camp.”
Addicts detained in these institutions of despair receive no council or treatment and have nothing to occupy their time, save for the mind-numbing work they do making products for international companies. If they refuse to work, for whatever reason, they receive physical punishments so cruel that some labor rights charities have equated them to torture.
Understandably, being stuck in horrible place and working without pay for years can be enough to push some people to the breaking point. As a result, violent riots breaking out within the camps is becoming an increasingly common occurrence.
China is currently the world leader in annual executions, and drug offenders are often the ones being put to death. In accordance with Chinese drug laws, anyone caught trying to smuggle a kilo or more of heroin into the country could face the death penalty. And the same fate could befall anyone found carrying more than 50 grams of other narcotics, including cocaine, opium, and cannabis.
The state also gets to conclude whether or not you’re a drug addict. If you fail the arbitrary, non-medical drug test, you could be in for a bad trip. Addicts are given no less than three years in a prison-like detoxification center. After that, they have to spend a minimum of another three years in a compulsory community rehabilitation center where they’re assessed as to whether or not they can be allowed back on the streets unsupervised.
Despite being criticized for its harsh policy by a number of international watchdog groups, China has remained defiant about its current drug laws and warns travelers that they will subject to severe penalties should they disobey.
Over the past few decades, Iran has publicly executed more than 10,000 drug traffickers and narcotics users as part of the country’s “War on Drugs.” In recent years, this policy seems to have been enforced even more strictly, with 650 people being executed by the Iranian government in 2010 alone. Of those, 90 percent weren’t caught with drugs directly, and were put to death merely for drug-related offenses. As punishment is not limited to dealers, those who are caught using or in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs (including marijuana) can face a public whipping of up to 70 lashes.
That being said, Iran’s drug laws also show signs of being strangely progressive. The country has more operational treatment centers than most other nations and it distributes clean needles to users. Furthermore, they’re actually seriously considering making all drugs legal. In 2015, the highly influential Expediency Council suggested the country should ditch the War on Drugs and start growing cannabis and opium and charging the citizens to use them. A move like that could almost wipe out Iran’s annual executions and dramatically reduce its prison population, which is currently 60 to 70 percent drug offenders.
Considering that littering is an offence that can earn you a beating with a cane in Singapore, you can imagine that the authorities of this city-state don’t take too kindly to drug offenders. According to Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau, the Misuse of Drugs Act empowers the police to force suspected drug abusers into drug rehab for a period between six and 36 months. The law also mandates that anyone caught leaving a known drug establishments is subject to a police search (no warrant required) and could face maximum penalties — which, in this case, is death.
Anyone found holding at least 17 ounces of marijuana, or half an ounce of cocaine or heroine is treated as a drug trafficker. And, in Singapore, the death penalty is mandatory for aggravated drug trafficking. Between 1991 and 2004, more than 400 people were sentenced to hang for the crime, a mixture of both locals and nationals. Even if you’re lucky enough escape execution, you’ll likely be looking at a very long prison sentence.
Like its neighboring country of Singapore, Malaysia also enforces a mandated death penalty for convicted drug traffickers. Only, in Malaysia, it takes even less for you to be branded as a drug trafficker. Just seven ounces of marijuana or half an ounce of heroin is all it takes to put your life in jeopardy. Even if you’re caught with less you’ll still be charged a heavy fine and likely incur a lengthy prison sentence.
Authorities can also detain anyone for up to two weeks on suspicion of drug use and forcibly test them for any traces of illegal drugs in their system. Those who test positive are automatically sentenced to a minimum of one year of compulsory treatment, even if they’re not caught with any drugs on them at the time.
3. Saudi Arabia
If you’re looking to detoxify, Saudi Arabia might seem like a nice place to go. In strict accordance with Saudi law, visitors to the devout Muslim country are strictly prohibited from bringing in any narcotics, pills, or alcohol. Which means you won’t find a single bar or liquor stores in the entire country.
According to the State Department, penalties for the possession, consumption, import, and manufacture of alcohol or any other illegal drugs are extremely severe. Convicted drug users face hefty fines, lengthy jail sentences, public lashings, and/or deportation. And if you happen to be convicted of drug trafficking the only punishment is death — no exceptions. It’s not a very nice death by any stretch of the imagination either. Offenders are often dragged onto the roadside, surrounded by a jeering mob and then beheaded in front of onlookers. If your crime is deemed great enough, your decapitated body might even be displayed publicly as a warning to others.
When arriving in Indonesia, one of the first things you’ll probably see at the airport is a cheery sign notifying you that having drugs in your bloodstream could lead to your execution. Needless to say, the country doesn’t mess around with its drug laws. Even drug users can face decades in prison or death by firing squad for their actions. And, you don’t even have to be involved with any drug dealing or drug use to be punished. Thanks to a law enacted in 2009, parents who fail to report their child’s illicit drug use can face steep fines and imprisonment.
Indonesia is probably the worst possible country to be a drug addict. Since addiction itself is treated as a crime there, the country doesn’t hesitate to execute foreigners or people deemed unfit to stand trial. In 2015, the country sentenced two Australians and a schizophrenic Brazilian man to death by firing squad. All pleas from the families and governments of their respective countries were disregarded.
1. United Arab Emirates
Though the United Arab Emirates is one of the countries that issues capital punishment to drug offenders, you’re much less likely to get executed there than in some of the Southeast Asian countries. But don’t let that fool you, their drug laws are still insanely strict, even if the punishment is somewhat less severe. In fact, there are a multitude of cases where travelers have been arrested for unwittingly bringing trace amounts of illicit drugs into the country. In once instance, a British man was sentenced to four years in prison after Dubai customs officials found 0.003 grams of cannabis stuck to his shoe. That’s not even enough weed to see with your naked eye and it probably only got there after he unintentionally stepped on someones discarded joint on the way to the airport.
In an even more extreme case, a Swiss national was also sentenced to four years behind bars when customs officials at the Dubai airport found three poppy seeds stuck to his clothes, presumably from the bread roll he ate at Heathrow Airport in London prior to his flight to Dubai.
The good news is Dubai usually releases foreigners before they serve a full sentence. But that could still mean spending months incarcerated for an innocuous action. So be sure to inspect all your clothing and luggage with a microscope before travelling to the United Arab Emirates.